Preamble: I should admit that though they fail to deliver decent governance that was devoid of corruption, learned members of erstwhile Congress cabinet are very good in knowledge and articulation. And the way, what we omit and commit willingly, either in analysis or reporting, by anyone – including me, if I do so depends on the priorities and interests of a person. So, there were these two ministers of UPA government, now criticising the Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation – GSPC, estimate of gas reserves at KG basin and failure to produce.
The Gist from the Past:
The apparent failure by GSPC to produce gas from the much publicised KG basin wells had made it look like another ‘King Fisher’ type case, albeit a Government owned one. In 2005, the Gujarat state owned GSPC declared that it has found a huge gas reserve of 20000 trillion-cubit-feet in KG basin. GSPC, had in fact didn’t qualify to bid for exploration, when the bids were invited by the then NDA Government. The Gujarat government backed GSPC so that it qualified.
When Narendra Modi, the then Chief Minister for the state of Gujarat had declared the huge discovery, it was received with pleasant surprise and scepticism as well. For one, two technocrats, who – without doubt could be experts to comment on the discovery – Subir Raha, Chairman of ONGC and VK Sibal, DG of Hydrocarbons had expressed doubts and Mr Sibal had termed the declaration as a ‘tall claim’.
GSPC had then went on fundraising campaign and raised nearly Rs 20,000 Cr and failed to produce gas from the said discovery.
Reports from the Present:
One thing many failed to notice from the interview of Arun Shourie to Karan Thapar was his acceptance of reduced corruption at the centre, while his criticism of Narendra Modi stole all the lime lights. [Though, he was quick to point out that nothing was done at the states level pointing out at Vyapam and Lalit Modi. Any sane person would fail to understand if the centre is supposed to be responsible for Vyapam and Lalit Modi, why the UPA Government that spent a decade in the centre and facilitated the escape of Lalit Modi was not responsible in the first place]
Even before Arun Shourie conceded that corruption had reduced at the centre, the machinery of congress that was idle for the last two years was working overtime, to prove corruption by Narendra Modi government.
And none other than Jairam Ramesh, the eminent intellectual from IIT was spearheading the campaign. Between 18th April to 3rd June, he had authored four columns, three in ‘The Hindu’ and one in ‘The Indian Express’. Not to be left behind, Mani Sankar Aiyar had jumped into the bandwagon.
And they chose the GSPC episode to target the Narendra Modi.
What Happened Actually?
Aiyar was the minister of Petroleum when Narendra Modi announced the gas discovery. He candidly admitted in his opinion piece that he owes an apology to Raha, whom he didn’t believe and chose to believe, of all the persons in the world – Narendra Modi! Even those who are born in 2005 know how much Congress believed Narendra Modi in 2005. Those were the times when the entire congress propaganda machinery was working overtime in tandem with the main stream media and international community to project Narendra Modi as what their chief Sonia Gandhi called “Maut ka Saudagar”. Guilty with the baggage of all the blood that was on their hands from the day of partition to the lives of Sikhs in Delhi to Tamilians in Sri Lanka, Congress was looking for a scapegoat to get its dirty linen appear white.
And we have Mani Sankar Aiyar claiming he believed Modi and dismissed the remarks of the chief of ONGC and DG of Hydrocarbons. As it is a fact that GSPC failed to produce gas from the said well, and their estimate was based on just one dig, what a responsible government should have done? It should cross-check the findings or get it certified by an agency of international repute. Considering the abhorrence the then UPA government had towards Modi, it was natural that his claims would be subjected to be verified again before being finalised. More so, the government was arguably led by an eminent economist and had many others in the team. But, we are talking about a government that gave loans to Kingfisher and was trying to justify that there were no losses in 2G scam and was allocating most of the coal mines to whoever pays – to the party and not to the government.
I fail to understand, why ‘The Hindu’ and ‘The Indian Express’, both known for the investigative journalism failed to investigate the GSPC episode on their own.
MSA had in fact, quoted that CAG made disparaging remarks on GSPC. He didn’t miss to comment that it was the same CAG, whose 2G report was used by BJP. I checked few reports of CAG. In fact, CAG criticised almost every PSU of India. THIS IS A FACT. And what this fact represents? That all our institutions have been run so inefficiently and have become establishments that represents Corruption, Nepotism and Sycophancy. I leave it to the wisdom of the reader to guess who should be responsible for such degradation.
This episode brought another aspect of how our governance – in general has a lacuna. That the decision makers are not the experts, like both Narendra Modi and Mani Sankar Aiyar in this case. If by believing some over enthused technocrat, who claimed more than what he could comprehend Narendra Modi had committed a crime, even Mani Sankar Aiyar had committed a crime by not believing not one, but two technocrats, whose credential were more reliable. Then, why MSA choose to look the other way, especially when the world knows how hated Narendra Modi was by even low level congress worker at that time. Was it the lure of commissions that change hands during loan approval and disbursement, as he is indicating now? It is hard to believe that Narendra Modi was the beneficiary of these commissions or loans. If so, Congress would have got the entire machinery that was at their disposal (which was already working overtime to nail Narendra Modi for 2002) to get Modi prosecuted, if they find a shred of evidence.
Even after 2007, when GSPC had failed to produce gas, what actions were taken by the UPA government to correct the wrongs? Nothing! In fact, Raghu Ram Rajan had to restrict all banks today, only due to their legacy problems of disbursing loans without proper analysis and due diligence. Today, if the banks are refusing loans to even genuine businessmen, it was the legacy inherited from the corrupt practices of UPA government.
And coming to CAG reports, it appears that the observations of CAG have no binding on the audited agencies, whether departments of government or PSUs. Why no mechanism of follow-up does not exist when we are close to complete seven decades of self-governance, makes one wonder about what our governments were doing in all these days. Yes, it is the matter of Omission, with a capital O. Congress that proudly claims legacy to all the positive thins that happened in independent India, should also take the blame for India being a ‘developing country’.
After going through the reports of CAG and the facts that occurred from time to time, since the days of Bofors to the inefficiency of Air India to Kingfisher to 2G and Coal scams to the current discussion on GSPC, what can be established?
First thing is government procurements are not done in the correct manner, without bias. In cases, where the performance of the equipment was to the expectation, then there were over costs, including commissions. Or even the specifications were tweaked so that only those firms with links get orders. More worrying is that the expertise or the lack of it by the PSU banks in evaluating the loan applications. And there are the politicians, who exert influence in all spheres of governance. Though Rajiv Gandhi famously accepted that only 10% of the government’s spend was reaching the end purpose, nothing had happened in the last three decades to improve the situation. And his son has no clue on any of the things he talk about.
Takeaways from the GSPC Episode: It is high time for the government to establish a world class practices in all matters that relate to the governance in general and business in particular.
Anyway, why there should be the role of government in any business? Government should restrict itself to ensure the law and order and implementation of constitution. If the government continues to be an active player as a big business house, there would be no end to the misuse of power and scams flourish, due to no proper mechanism of checks and balances. Finally, it would be left for the courts to judge on technical matters, of which even the judges are not experts. They try to do something they thought was better, and it may not be the best one.
Action Taken Reports on CAG observations shall be mandatory, and failure to act should attract punishment to the head of the department or PSU. And there is a need to empower CAG to audit even private firms whenever the statutory body feels so, as private are under the Income Tax purview. This will help in preventing financial irregularities before they embarrass the government nationally, or internationally.